Manos de Cristo offers dental care to low-income patients

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Although Obamacare has given millions of Americans the opportunity to purchase health care, not everyone with insurance can afford to go to the dentist.

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Health care plans across the nation cover a variety of procedures and treatment, whether it's for a broken leg or the flu. But not all insurance plans include dental, and those that do often only offer limited coverage. For lower-income Texans, the options are even fewer: Medicaid is only available to children 18 and under and pregnant women, and it caps dental coverage at $200 per year. What happens to those who cannot afford dental?

Local nonprofit Manos de Cristo brings life-changing services to the community and people of all types of backgrounds. Their dental clinic provides emergency, restorative, and preventive care, including fillings, crowns, partials, X-rays, exams, and regular cleanings.
These services are provided to the public at 70% off the market rate. A regular cleaning at a for-profit dental clinic could cost anywhere from $75 at Manos, regular cleanings run $40.

Dentists at Manos try to spread awareness about the importance of dental hygiene to their patients and locals. Rose Maldonado, director of dental operations/administration says, "Most people do not think about it, but your mouth is part of your body. So, if something is wrong with your mouth, it is going to affect your entire body."

Neglecting your smile can lead to infections, which can rot out your teeth and cause gum disease. As infections get worse, the inflammation and chemicals can eat away at gums and the bone structure that holds teeth in place. It can also trigger diabetes by causing blood sugar to rise, leading to more serious health issues. According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, 8.25% of adults ages 20-64 have periodontal disease and 5.08% have severe periodontal disease. Statistics show that minorities living below the poverty line are more likely to have periodontitis.

UT alumnus Donovan Gray, a patient at Manos, told the Chronicle, "I have dental insurance with my job, but my co-pay is too high. I know my health is important but I just can't afford it, so I do not go." Gray is not alone: Plenty of Austinites need oral health care, but either don't have dental insurance, or can't afford the out-of-pocket costs. To assist clients with financial issues, Manos offers a payment plan that allows patients to receive services and set up financing.

By spreading awareness through newsletters, TV, and radio, Manos was able to serve 11,900 people in its dental clinic in the past year. And by participating in the annual Amplify Austin giving campaign, hopefully they can serve even more. "At Manos de Cristo you are receiving the same quality service, and you are more than a patient; we actually care," said Executive Director Julie Ballesteros. Along with the dental clinic, Manos also offers a food pantry, clothing, a back-to-school program, and other educational services.